Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lulu and Bluebell Escape the Spider Kingdom

  Here is an illustration I did for this weeks Illustration Friday challenge. I only have a couple of hours left to turn this in before the next challenge begins. The theme for the week is 'tension.' There are two forms of tension in my picture. First, Lulu is creating tension on the spider web tight rope as she walks across it. Also, tension is always created while escaping a perilous situation.

   One evening while Lulu was walking to a friends house, a giant spider crawled out from behind a dumpster, grabbed onto Lulu, and scuttled away to the sticky confines of Spider Kingdom. The spider wrapped silver threads of web all around Lulu until she was incapacitated. The only thing left untouched by the webbing was Lulu's face so she could still breath. Lulu was not the only captive of Spider Kingdom.  Wrapped up next to her was a moth named Bluebell. The two commiserated four hours, wallowing in self pity at their 'sticky' situation. But then Lulu decided they needed to stop complaining and instead come up with a plan, or else they would certainly become spider dinner. Their arms and feet were tied up, but they still had their teeth. Lulu inched toward Bluebell and bit through the webbing until her moth friend was free. Lulu was surprised to find out the spider webbing tasted like strawberries. Next, Bluebell worked to set Lulu free. With grace, agility and bravery, the two new friends escaped the Spider Kingdom. As they left, they heard the calls of the spiders. They yelled 'But we only wanted to be friends!' And the confused spiders sobbed great spider tears.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Folklife and Bus Friends

   Yesterday a friend and I went to the Folklife Festival. We met at the entrance and wandered around, people-watched and listened to music. On the walk from the bus stop to the festival, I befriended the person who was sitting next to me on the bus. We started talking because the bus route changed and we were both surprised by this. My bus friend is an engineer who grew up in Egypt. I could tell just from our short conversation that he was a kind fellow. Also, he was one of the few non-drunk, stoned or slightly crazy bus friends I've made. Often when the person sitting next to me starts chit-chatting with me, it is interesting and novel, but slightly uncomfortable. On one ride home, I sat toward the back of the bus. I was merrily listening to music through my head phones when a man plopped down beside me. He pulled out a beer poorly concealed in a brown paper bag, and began joyfully jabbering away to me so I felt obligated to take out my head phones. He was a friendly enough fellow, but sometimes a person just wants to stare out the window and listen to music. He told me he sits in that spot because it is the seat right behind the mirror so the bus driver cannot see him drinking. He then told me his whole life story about growing up in South Carolina and working in a factory. Listening to his life story was actually pretty interesting and made me feel less grumpy about having my music-listening and day-dreaming interrupted. Near us, two men started making up misogynistic songs full of unpleasant and demeaning expletives about women. My bus friend asked me what I thought of their songs. I said something diplomatic but still negative like 'they were good at what they did but I didn't like it.' My bus friend promptly turned to the two singing men and said 'she said you guys are good at what you do but she doesn't like it.' This was a bit awkward, but the two men did not seem to be offended by my opinion. Right before I got off the bus, the bus friend said "I always meet the strangest characters on the bus. I could write a book about it!"

Banana and a Music Man
Tire Hula-Hooper
View from Above
Kenyan Veggie Samosa 
Colorful Sign
View from Below
Accordian man

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Curious Case of the Intriguing Mystery Books

(Ladder to the sky, colorful building maybe with a mysterious festival happening inside, garbage monster, stretched shadow on a leafy lawn.)

   Now that it is summer time, many people will be doing 'beach reading' or 'airplane reading' which is often used as an excuse to read fun, page-turners. Mysteries are my favorite types of page turners. A couple of months ago I made a list for my parents of my favorite mystery books. I am sharing a modified version here.

1. 'And Then There Were None' by Agatha Christie. In this book, ten people who have committed past misdeeds are invited to an island house. But soon, their numbers begin to dwindle...due to murder! Who is behind the murders and why?
    Agatha Christie is of course one of the masters of the genre and this book in particular exemplifies why she deserves her spot in the mystery writers hall of fame. This book is intriguing, suspenseful, and full of twists. Some of my other favorite Christie books are 'Peril at End House,' 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' and 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles.' 

2. 'Case Histories' by Kate Atkinson. In 'Case Histories' Jackson Brodie must solve three seemingly unconnected mysteries involving family tragedy. 
  I love Kate Atkinson. She has a witty and sometimes playfully cheeky tone to her writing but this is complimented by her talent at characterization. Her characters are infused with such heart that they feel like real and believable people. This book's mystery-solver is Jackson Brodie and his mystery solving adventures are expanded upon in later books, all of which are wonderful. They are called in order 'One Good Turn', 'When Will There Be Good News?' and 'Started Early, Took the Dog.' 

3. 'The Likeness' by Tana French. A woman who looks exactly like detective Cassie Maddox is murdered and the detective must find out what happened to the murdered woman. 
   This is actually the second in her 'Dublin Murder Squad' series, but it is my favorite. The first book in the series is called 'In The Woods' which is also a fun, page-turner. These books do not need to be read in order, but I think it is more fun to do so. Sometimes her books can be a little too violent and disturbing, but this is made up for by her well developed characters and intriguing plot twists. The other books in this series are 'A Faithful Place' and 'Broken Harbor.'  

4. 'Dark Places' by Gillian Flynn. Libby Day is a survivor of a massacre of her family. Her teen-aged brother is convicted of the crime with the help of Libby's testimony. But, what really happened on that horrible day? 
    I had a hard time picking my favorite novel by Gillian Flynn but I think it has to be 'Dark Places.' I like Gillian Flynn because she is incredible at writing page-turning, plot-twisting books. But she is also an insightful writer who creates worlds that are full of gray instead of black and white. Her other two novels are also great. They are 'Sharp Objects' and 'Gone Girl.' 

5. 'What the Dead Know' by Laura Lippman.  Two girls go missing after visiting the mall and years later, one of them may have been found.
   I listened to this book in audio book form a couple of summers ago when I had an unexpected day off. I spent the whole day outside while working on art projects and listening to this book. It was a delightful day! But the unexpected day-off did not influence my opinion on this book. I would have liked it even if I had listened to it on a bad day. I really like Laura Lippman because I feel like she puts a lot of thought into the social issues she touches upon in her books. Also, she writes her characters with compassion. Her 'Tess Monaghan' books are also a lot of fun too. I wish Tess was my friend in real life. I'd help her solve mysteries. 

6. 'Little Face' by Sophie Hannah. New mother Alice is away from her baby for a couple of hours and when she comes back, she insists the baby in her daughters cradle is not hers. 
   Sophie Hannah is a new favorite. I like her two detectives ( Charlie and Simon).  Her books are full of interesting plots and interesting characters. Her books come out in England well before America which is a bummer because I am ready to read her next book. I already have a hold on it at the library but I have to wait until August when it finally comes to the U.S. Her other books available in the U.S. (and elsewhere, I imagine) are 'Hurting Distance', 'The Point of Rescue,' 'The Other Half Lives,'  'A Room Swept White,' and 'Lasting Damage.'  Her next book which is already out in England is called 'Kind of Cruel.' Also, a lot of her titles for British readers are changed for American readers (and possibly other countries too.) Just a small rant... I think this is so annoying and silly! Why do book publishers feel the need to do this? 

7. 'Rebecca' by Daphne Du Maurier. The narrator of this book meets a rich and handsome man while vacationing in Monte Carlo. They marry each other and she goes to live with him at his estate. But the narrator feels the presence of her husbands late-wife Rebecca everywhere within the house. What really happened to Rebecca?
   I actually saw the Alfred Hitchcock movie before I read the book, but this book was still really good even though I already knew the story. This is a great Gothic mystery full of eerie intrigue.

8. 'The One I Left Behind' by Jennifer Mcmahon. One summer when Reggie was a girl, a serial killer known as Neptune is on a killing spree of young women. Then Reggie's own mother is kidnapped! The book takes place half in the past when the murders happen and half in the present.
 Mcmahon sometimes writes books that are a little too SVUish but they often have a delightful way of mixing the magical with the real, leaving the reader questioning what is what. 'The One I Left Behind' is a departure from both of these aspects and it is an exciting page turner. 

9. 'No Time For Goodbye' by Linwood Barclay. When Cynthia Bigge was fourteen, she woke up to find her entire family missing. What could have happened to them? 
  I figured I should include at least one man on this list. For some reason, I end up enjoying mystery books by women more. But I like Linwood Barclay's characters who are usually affable, level-headed and normal, everyday people. Barclay also writes interesting plots! However, I was not a fan of the first book in his Zack Walker series. I would stick to his stand alone books. Others include 'Never Look Away', 'Fear the Worst' and 'Too Close To Home.' 

10.  All of the Kinsey Milhone, 'Alphabet Mystery' series of books by Sue Grafton. The first one is called 'A is for Alibi' and is about Kinsey Milhone's investigation of a lawyers death. The investigation leads to plot twists and shady characters.
   Sue Grafton's series is the one that really ushered me into the world of mystery novels. I listened to all her books as audio books and afterward wanted to read and listen to more mysteries!  Kinsey Millhone is another person I wish I could be friends with, even though her sassiness sometimes borders on surliness. But she seems to be a lovable grump. However, I have a theory that Grafton has been paid by McDonalds to advertise in her books. Kinsey is constantly going on about how delicious her McDonalds burgers are to the point where it seems a little weird. 

    Well, I don't want to get too carried away with this list, so I will limit it to ten items... except I am going to cheat a little with this honorable mention list. Here they are: Alan Bradleys 'Flavia DeLuce' series, the author Nicci French, Jaqualine Winspear's book 'Masie Dobbs,' Donna Tartt's 'A Sercret History,' and the father of the modern day mystery, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his 'Sherlock Holmes' books. 
   I made a copy of this list at my libraries page. Here is the link. If you live in Seattle, the list takes you directly to the titles so you can put holds on them. I am not sure, but I think if you live in a city whose library   uses the same program, the list works for you and your library too. I've seen lists made by members libraries besides Seattle, so this is why I think it might work for non-Seattle library users too. 
   I would love to hear other peoples mystery book recommendations! 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Small Towns, Abandoned Lots and Old Friends

   I have more pictures from my Whidbey Island trip. These pictures were taken in the small town near the cabin we stayed at. It was a cute little town to explore.


    Today I saw two interesting sights. The first I saw while stuck in traffic. I wish I was stoic and patient while stuck in traffic but usually I feel antsy and irritated  Luckily, today I was stuck in traffic in a spot where I had something interesting to view. I was next to a large abandoned lot. Once there was a building there, but it must have been condemned as unfit for human occupation. The building was torn down except some cement walls. These walls are now covered with bold and colorful graffiti.  The rest of the lot is full of weeds- long wispy green weeds and colorful blooming weeds. I am an admirer of weeds. They can be frustrating in one's at-home garden but they turn abandoned lots and sides of highways into something beautiful. Dirt and rubble are transformed into wild gardens brimming with flowers and greenery. While sitting in my car I wished I could instead go explore this lot with my camera. And, on further observation, I was not the only one who felt this way. In the back of the lot by one of the painted cement walls were two men, one with a camera. This photographer is far more adventurous then I am because the lot is contained on all sides with a chain link fence topped with a barbed wire. The other man was the subject of the first man's pictures. At first all I could see of the second man was that he was wearing shorts but no shirt. When I was finally able to inch my car a little bit further down the road, I got a better view of the two men and saw that the shirtless man was wearing boxing gloves. While his photo was being taken he struck various fighting poses, a punch here and punch there and so on. I have two theories about the scene. The first theory is that  the photographer was doing an art project- maybe about urban decay and the young mans fight to stay civil in the urban jungle. Or the slow decline of industry and the youth's fight to prosper in a declining economy. My second theory is that the boxing man was a professional boxer who was having his photo taken for his boxing card (like a baseball card). Either way it was interesting and I was a bit jealous that I wasn't exploring that lot with my camera.
   Later in the day I walked by a restaurant when out front I spotted two old women. They were huddled close together and lightly giggling and softly muttering to each other. I looked at them closer and saw that they were identical twins. They must have been about eighty with the same gently crinkled skin and pale gray hair. They had almost-matching outfits. Both twins wore ankle length skirts and blazers. One twin wore a bright lavender blazer with a flowy lavender and blue floral skirt. Her sister wore a white blazer with a pale pink and white floral skirt. The best part was their hair because it was done-up beautifully. They had long hair that was sculpted almost like a mini-1960's beehive  A braid that wrapped around each of their heads like two crowns. I saw them walk away from the restaurant toward the parking lot. The sunlight caught in their flowy skirts so they looked like they were glowing. I like the idea that two people in their eighth decade who have known each other for their whole life can still get such a kick out of spending time together that they coordinate matching outfits and hair. It was a very sweet and hopeful sight.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Spring and Summer Food

   Whenever Spring and Summer come around, I am far more enthusiastic about food! Not to say I am not enthusiastic about food during the colder seasons. I always love to eat. But it is exciting once Spring arrives and the fruits and vegetables come into season and are not horribly expensive. Here are some food that I have made and/or eaten recently.

  During a recent cabin trip to Whidbey with my friends, we had handmade pizza. I did not make the pizza, my friend Mike did. He is a pizza savant!

  The second day at the cabin we had tacos. We didn't really utilize springs ingredients much in the tacos but they were quite tasty.

  I love dolma's and sometimes I like to make them at home. These one's were modified from the dolma's I usually make because along with rice and herbs they also had lots of chopped vegetables in them. I was trying to sneak the vegetables into the dolmas to make them even healthier. They still tasted the same with less rice and added vegetables so this is something I will do again next time I make dolmas. I also made a falafel salad to go along with the dolmas but I just used a box to make the falafels.

  My favorite thing that I have made recently are spring rolls. I have been buying spring rolls from the fresh food section of the grocery store a lot lately, but they are four or five dollars for two of them. I figured I could make them myself for a lot cheaper. These spring rolls have avocado  red pepper, cucumber and either tofu or smoked salmon. Some of them also have thai basil, cilantro and/or green onion. I used two dipping sauces- a peanut sauce and a sweet chili sauce. I think hoison sauce would taste good with these also. Spring rolls are fairly easy to make, but more difficult to make look perfect. My spring rolls were a bit messy, but they tasted good. I made a bunch so they lasted several days too. Paired with a fruit salad, spring rolls are the perfect warm weather dinner.

   What is your favorite food to eat or make in Spring and Summer?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Last Wednesday

Here are some nature sketches I drew:

    Last Wednesday I was at a marina on the lake when I looked up and saw a hawk gliding in lop-sided circles above me. He had wings speckled with different shades of brown like a moth but they were shaped like crooked daggers. I always think of birds as delicate and dainty and I forgot about the sturdy strength of predator birds like hawks or eagles. I can easily imagine a prehistoric dinosaur like a t-rex evolving into something like a hawk. The t-rex is always illustrated with mean eyes and the hawks eyes look a bit mean too. Not that I really think they are mean, but you have different priorities if you spend your day circling the sky in search of small, vulnerable animals. But my cat Wendel is the sweetest cat I've ever met and even he has mean eyes sometimes. After hovering in the air for a while, the hawk dove downward and straight into the water. He was completely immersed in the water before breaking back into the air and flying off. I couldn't see from the distance I was at, but I image he had lake water glistening on his feathers and dripping back down toward the lake.  Probably grasped in his talons or beak was a fish he captured for a light snack.  
   This hawk isn't the only interesting bird I've seen lately. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the ground where I almost always am when I looked up to see two crows flying side by side. One crow looked normal- a black silhouette against a blue sky. But the other crow looked like he had two long, oval shaped holes in his wings. It looked like I could look right through them and see the blue sky. But it must be impossible for a bird to fly with two holes in his wings, so I know this can't be what I really saw. I think he must have had a discoloration mutation and instead he had two white blotches on the underside of his wings. The blue of the sky was reflecting onto the lake and the blue of the lake was reflecting back onto the underside of his wings. It was an odd sight. If I was a person from ancient times I would probably think it was an omen. But I don't know if it would be a good omen or bad. Probably good. It seems like if you see something really interesting it should be considered a good omen.
   The hawk unlike the crow was an average looking hawk. But of course hawks are a far less common sight. I probably see hundreds of crows each week but I only see a hawk once in a while. After I was done watching the hawk I walked toward the marina's parking lot. On the way there I ran into my 'friend' who moors her boat at that marina. I use friend in quotation marks because we don't really know each other well enough to be friends but we run into each other now and then at the marina and she is especially friendly and I like her. When I first met her, I thought she looked like a fifty to sixty year old version of one of my college roommates. Really though, their bone structure and most of their features don't look anything alike. But they are both short with big green eyes, so this is enough for them to remind me of each other. We chattered while walking together but our conversation was interrupted by the harbormaster. He was with another man who I had seen working on the gardens earlier. The harbormaster asked if I had seen a man on the dock with a red billed hat. I hadn't, but I was intrigued. Who was this mysterious man with a red billed hat? A thief, a hooligan  an international criminal? Based on the two men's anxious body language and the way they rushed off when they found out I had not seen him, red billed hat man must have been a suspicious character up to no good. I wondered aloud to my 'friend' what that could be about, but I never found out. We talked a little bit about dogs and how cute it is when they befriend each other before getting into our cars and leaving.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Shores and Mountains and Mothers

    I went to Whidbey island recently and stayed in a cabin with friends. I just saw the movie 'Cabin in the Woods' and it was nothing like that. Partly because we were not in the woods (if we were, who knows what would have happened!), we were along the shore but also there were no incidents involving the 'undead.' Here are some photos showing the view from the cabin.

    Today is Mother's Day so happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there especially my own amazing mom! Mother's day got me thinking about an especially beautiful song by 'Iron and Wine.' It is one of my favorite songs by Iron and Wine (and really just a favorite in general) and is called 'Upward Over the Mountain.' The way I have always interpreted this song is that it is about how mothers and sons (or parents and their children) protect each other in different ways, especially as children grow older. Parents protect us in obvious ways by protecting us from pain and suffering. Also by giving us shelter and love and the things we need to survive. But children protect  their parents in subtler ways- by easing their parent's worry and by assuring their parents that they are okay. In the song the narrator repeats 'mother don't worry' with some line reassuring her that he is okay. He sings  'Mother don't worry I've killed the last snake that lives in the creek bed.' I imagine that his mother would chide him for playing in the creek because she was concerned he might be bitten by a snake. But the son has killed the last snake, so now his mother does not have to worry about that potential danger. He also says 'Mother don't worry I've got a coat and some friends on the corner.' I think it is universal for children (teenage children especially) to begrudgingly wear their coat not to protect themselves from cold but instead to protect their parents from worry. Another thing the song explores is the way children's view of their parents shift which in turn causes children's need to protect their parents. When we are young, we see our parents as strong and infallible. But as we grow older we realize they are human and have their own vulnerabilities. In the song he sings "Mother, remember the night that the dog had her pups in the pantry? Blood on the floor and the fleas on their paws and you cried 'til the morning." I always thought that the story in these lines is that either the puppies or the mom-dog died and the mother is so devastated that she cannot stop crying over the loss. This is where the son's view of his mother shifts so he sees her as vulnerable and in need of protection. Through this mutual protection of each other the mom and her son are showing their love for each other.  But then despite this need to keep each other safe, both people also have to let go. The mother needs to let her son be free. The son needs the freedom to explore the world and potentially expose himself to danger. This is being said in the song with the lyrics "so may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten, sons are like birds flying upward over the mountain,  sons can be birds, taken broken up to the mountain, sons are like birds flying always over the mountain."  While looking online, I saw lots of different interpretations of this song all with good arguments for their interpretations. But even if this is not what Sam Beam meant when he wrote this song, this is what this song will always mean to me. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Close Examinations of Natural Specimens

   I love finding interesting and beautiful books to visually explore from the library. Here are two I found recently:

This one is called 'Amazing Rare Things' by David Attenborough.

   Most every amateur naturalist or admirer of the natural world is a fan of Attenborough and all his in depth and interesting documentaries.  So seeing his name on this book made me even more interested. I have to admit, I didn't actually read this book although there was plenty of writing. I was more interested in admiring the book's pictures, which were all beautiful! The pictures are natural history drawings from artists as far back as the fifteenth century.

  Several years ago I was at the prettiest garage sale I have ever been to. This was because the garage sale peddler was selling a bunch of huge old maps and educational charts that looked like they belonged in an old-fashioned class room. Unfortunately  the seller of these charts was savvy to their beauty which was reflected in their cost. This book I got from the library called the 'The Art of Instruction: Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th Centuries.' It is full of images from vintage educational charts that remind me of that garage sale.

  The art from this book is beautiful and I wish I could fill my house with huge versions of these educational charts. Here is just a taste of what this book has to offer.

  Here are some natural specimens collected from my own adventures into naturalism! (By 'adventures into naturalism' I mean collecting leaves during walks around town or picking flowers in my yard.)